Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jim Wallis>Rediscovering Values

imageTonight I went to Powell’s Books here in Portland (actually it at was the Beaverton store) to hear Jim Wallis talk about his new book “Rediscovering Values on Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street (A Moral Compass for the New Economy)”

I have heard Wallis before and knew that I was in for a treat.  I first heard him at an intimate pastors gathering at a bookstore in Wichita, KS and then heard him again in May 2007 at the Festival of Homiletics (the same event that launched this blog).

Wallis is always riveting, challenging..and funny.    He is, of course, the founder and president of Sojourners community in Washington D.C.: an organization that also publishes Sojourners magazine.  

Wallis is known for his hard hitting critiques of both right wing and left wing politics and his biblical calls for a return of the church as a voice for social justice and the poor.   He describes himself as an evangelical Christian who is pro-life in all the dimensions that that entails: against abortion, but also FOR justice and mercy.

He dropped names like Rona Barrett, but it is obvious that he is who world leaders look to when they want a Christian perspective on values.  He spoke at both of the past two World Economic Forums in Davos, Switzerland and teaches occasionally at Harvard.  This past Monday night before speaking at Portland, he had been featured at Stanford Univ.

His book is really a reaction to the economic crisis we have been in for the past 2-3 years.  He spoke of the roots of the crisis and its lasting legacy.  The “tagline” for his presentation (and for his book) is:

While most of us wonder, "When will the financial crisis be over?," Wallis will present the more challenging question, "How will the financial crisis change us?"

We are really at a point where America chooses whether we will return to the pre-1980 values of economics, morality and the concept of common good or continue to allow the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.  Even more so, will we return to the concepts that our parents and grandparents learned from the Great Depression?

(One side note: I sat on the second row and there were a couple of older ladies sitting right in front of me who were almost comical.  They were overly dramatic in their reaction to every statistic that Wallis presented or suggestion he made. They gasped loudly at his stats and clucked their tongues like old schoolmarms and used stage whispers to say such things as “That’s terrible!” or “How can they?”  Although from my conversations with them beforehand I know that they were big Wallis supporters, they almost came across as mocking him by their exaggerated reactions to his every statement.  It takes all kinds to make a world….)

Some misc. notes:

  • CEO’s need to (and some are beginning to) recognize that they have a responsibility not just to shareholders, but rather to STAKEholders (including shareholders, workers, consumers, the environment and future generations).
  • Wallis has said for several years that a budget is a moral document (whether it be a family budget, a state’s budget, or a nations budget) but in recent years as a father (he has two sons, aged 11 & 6) he has come to realize that a calendar is a moral document as well.  Both express what is and what isn’t important to us, who is and who isn’t important to us and what we really think about the things we talk about.
  • Thirty years ago high level executives were (on average) paid 30x what the average worker in their company was paid.  Today that average is 450:1. 
  • Even though the “poverty line” in America is outdated & is unrealistically low, still 1 out of every 4 children in America lives under the “poverty line.”
  • The poor in our world are the “canaries in the mine” for our world economy.  When the poor begin to become even more profoundly affected it spells deep trouble for the rest of us.
  • Majorities never change anything. Change only comes when you have a critical mass among the minority.  Many people say they voted for change in the 2008 election, but change hasn’t happened because there has not been a critical mass among the minority.
  • Both Obama and his supports misunderstood the forces against significant change present in Washington D.C.  [You may see that as a bad thing or a good thing depending on your views of Obama, but it still is never good for the country over the long haul.-cph]. 
  • Wallis spoke of bonuses paid to executives of investment companies: While Wallis spoke to fast with figures, he said that investment companies paid something like $50 billion in bonuses to their executives last year. (This after the taxpayers bailed them out for their misdeeds).  That seemed a bit high to me and so I did a quick Google search. I never found that specific number, but found that investment companies located in New York City alone paid $20 billion in bonuses to their executives last year.  Wallis went through a long list of how that money could be used to make our country a stronger and more healthy place if it were applied to such things as health care, helping homeowners with mortgages in foreclosure (no foreclosures through the end of 2012), the fact that just a PORTION of that could pay off the debt of all of the individual states in the nation combined.  image
  • 45% of Harvard students said that they wanted to be investment  bankers. 
  • As Paul Harvey used to say: “Wash your mind out with this”: At the same time a teaching organization that trains teachers to go into the inner city and teach in the worst of the worst schools (I think it is Teach for America) has so many people applying that their application criteria are more strict than those to be admitted to Harvard University. 

In all of this, Wallis had a consistent Christian testimony.  He spoke several times of his Christian faith…not in a way that belittled or minimized the faith (or non-faith) of others, but he made it clear that his commitment to these things arose out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

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